Hoteliers in England have reported strong bookings levels and an ‘overwhelmingly positive’ response from guests in the first week of reopening outdoor facilities.
Speaking to Boutique Hotelier, the likes of The Pig Hotels, Whatley Manor and the Corinthia London all reopened alfresco dining spaces on April 12 in line with government guidance and saw consumer confidence return as diners flocked to venues.
Elite Hotels, comprising four privately-owned hotels, Luton Hoo, The Grand Eastbourne, Ashdown Park and Tylney Hall, said that despite snow last week, people were keen to venture out and experience hospitality again.
Graeme Bateman, managing director said: “We’ve been encouraged by the demand following re-opening for alfresco dining, with demand picking up as the week has progressed, and several lunch periods running near capacity. It’s been a real tonic to hear the chatter of conversion and chink of glasses return. Even the cloudy afternoons have brought people out to experience our hospitality, and has highlighted the strong desire for people to resume socialising, with the rule of six being universally accepted. Booking levels for the week ahead are equally encouraging.”
After three months of closures, hotels took innovative approaches to maximise their outdoor space, from garden pop-ups to new outdoor restaurants and covered dining.
Sue Williams, general manager, Whatley Manor said: “We’ve maximised the opportunity at Whatley Manor to use our pretty sheltered courtyard, a space which has not previously been used for in this way, as an outdoor restaurant. People are definitely taking longer lunches, relishing being in the open air – and definitely enjoying the contents of our wine cellar! And the hottest ticket of the week has been to bag one of our hot water bottles – they’ve gone down a storm! It’s also terrific to have our staff back and on form – the work uniforms are a bit different at the moment, though, since thermals are definitely required!”
The Vineyard at Stockcross launched OutSide – A New Vintage, a new outside dining dome-shaped marquee and introduced a new seasonal menu from executive head chef Tom Scade to ensure it was good to go when restrictions lift.
Paul Shanahan, general manager at The Vineyard said bookings were at an ‘all-time high’.
He says: “The early response has been overwhelmingly positive and we have been delighted to see so many old faces mixed with the new. Our new menu and dining concept has been extremely well received and guests are loving the tapas style relaxed dining on offer. The overall atmosphere has been electric with Champagne Taittinger selling extremely well and our wing rib of beef proving the most popular dish.
“We have still had the odd pesky no show but luckily these spaces have been easily filled and with confidence building we hope that these won’t be an issue in the forthcoming weeks. Bookings are at an all-time high so long may it continue.”
Douglas Waddell, operations director, Hand Picked Hotels commented: “The response has been phenomenal – since opening the diary for alfresco bookings, we have seen bookings consistently increase by over 100% week on week.
“We already had the expansive grounds and views over our gardens for guests to enjoy when dining alfresco, but our outdoor spaces have been transformed in recent months to create far more of an experience for our diners.
“Across the group we have terraces and patios with new atmospheric (yet practical!) lighting and guests will also find many of locations now feature new teepees and stretch tents with heaters, blankets and lanterns to add to the experience and make sure guests feel as welcome and as comfortable as possible.”
Corinthia London opened its Kerridge’s Garden Grill on April 12, bringing its popular Kerridge’s Bar and Grill concept into an existing space within the hotel.
Managing director, Thomas Kochs said: “The Kerridge’s Garden Grill popup was a creative way of using an existing space with a completely different purpose, in line with current government guidelines. It has proved so popular – our volume of calls has doubles – that we have almost sold out.
“Our first week back has been a phenomenal success on all fronts, even the weather cooperated, in a very British way, almost dry and almost warm and we only had to cancel one service in Kerridge’s Garden Grill due to rain.
“Most important we saw consumer confidence, delighted guests and our family of colleagues who were beyond happy to be back in action. We felt that our guests were in high spirits and were thrilled to be able to enjoy two of our alfresco restaurants – they spent generously (thank you!) we even ran out of lobster and Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle Champagne, which was a delightful problem to have after the real challenges we have faced over the last year.”
The Pig hotels group launched its new Big Outdoor Lunch initiative ahead of reopening and experienced huge demand went bookings went live. The Pig at Harlyn Bay in Cornwall, the newest pig in the litter, also opened The Lobster Shed outdoor eating terrace for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Guy Freedman, hotel director at The Pig at Bridge Place commented: “First week has been great. Amazing to have the team back together after so long, wonderful to see our regulars and new guests too. It’s been busy but not overrun, lots of space, fresh air and a fun attitude.”
Chris Charles, general manager, The Pig at Combe added: “Just over 3 months shut and we were allowed to open our doors from April 12th. Outside dining and 13 external rooms brought new challenges and the first day back threw us – hail, sun, wind, rain and snow, a real test of our new systems! It is obvious the public have been desperate to get back out and enjoy themselves, despite the best efforts of the British weather. Staff and guests are in high spirits and trade has been really strong in the first week, long may it continue! We even helped celebrate a small, socially distanced wedding, all very emotional!”